Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garlic Harvest

The leaves on the garlic started to turn yellow this past week, telling me that the bulbs were ready to harvest.  So, digging out the garlic was last Sunday's project.  (And the reward was red Russian kale sauteed in olive oil with fresh, juicy garlic!)

I grow pretty much a year's supply of garlic in one 6' by 4' bed (somewhere around 100 heads--we eat a lot of garlic!), so preparing the garlic for long-term storage is important to me.  Ideally garlic should be harvested after a dry spell so that the heads are already a bit dry.  Dig the heads up carefully so that you don't bruise them, leave the stalks attached, and brush off most of the soil. (Don't wash the soil off--you don't want to get your garlic wet.)  Now the garlic needs to cure in a cool, dark, dry place for about a week.  Typically we don't have many cool, dry places in July here in Pittsburgh, but I cure my garlic in my garage.  Not exactly cool (although this year Mother Nature is cooperating so far with a cool spell!), but it is dry.  

After about a week the stalks can be cut off, and then I hang the heads in a cupboard in our basement. I save the biggest, fattest cloves to plant in October for next year's crop.  Growing your own garlic is easy, and fresh, just-harvested garlic is a treat you really can't buy in a store!   

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pea Update: And the Winner Is . . .

All three, actually!  

Well, the peas have come down to make room for some squash and climbing beans, and the vote (mine!) is in.  Here's the tally:

Amish Snap Pea:  Winner for earliest and for taste.
Johnny's Snap Pea:  Winner for yield.
Cascadia:  Winner for disease-resistance.

I really think all three were winners and I'd definitely plant the same combination next year. (Although I have to admit this is partly because I'm cheap and I have lots of seed peas left over!)  But overall I was really pleased with how these varieties worked out.  The fact that the Amish snap peas produced first staggered the pea harvest without having to stagger the planting:  I put all the peas in the ground at the same time.  As the Amish peas were finishing the Johnny's snap peas were taking off, with the Cascadia not far behind.  As far as yield goes, the Johnny's really won out.  Of course I didn't count the number of pea plants I wound up with of each kind so this isn't really a very "scientific" study, but the Johnny's were so far ahead of the other two I think it's pretty obvious:

Amish:  1 lb
Cascadia:  1 3/4 lb
Johnny's:  3 lbs !! (That's a lot of peas!) 

    Amish (left), Johnny's (middle), Cascadia (right)

Now, in terms of taste, I think the Amish won hands down.  They were very delicate, but sweet even if under or over-ripe.  Both the Johnny's and Cascadia peas were larger than the Amish, and although they were both delicious, (sweet, crisp, and juicy) I really loved the Amish snap peas the best.

Although I really didn't have any problems with disease of any kind (that I could see), a few of the Amish and Johnny's snap pea pods had either a few spots or were a bit deformed.  I really didn't notice this at all with the Cascadia, which were bred for disease resistance in the Pacific Northwest.  

It's been a terrific pea season and I'm a bit sorry to see it go.  But with the baby carrots, parsnips and beets starting to make an appearance I'm sure I'll get over it!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Time for Garlic Scapes!

I'd never heard of a garlic scape until a few years ago when I belonged to a CSA and these strange "vegetables" appeared in my weekly box.  They were garlic scapes, which are the flower stalks made this time of year by hardneck garlic.  You really don't want your garlic to put energy into flowering, so the scapes should be cut off just as they start to curl, which for my garlic, is now! Don't throw them away though!  Scapes are a wonderful preview of garlic yet-to-come.  You can puree them with olive oil and pine nuts to make a great pesto.  Or puree them with white cannellini beans to make a terrific bean dip.  Or cut them into pieces and stir fry them with the veggies of your choice.  Or just use them as you would regular garlic.  The scapes have a milder, less pungent garlic flavor.  

Don't have your own garlic scapes but want to try them? Visit your local farmers' market.  If you have garlic-growers at your market they'll most likely be selling their scapes about now!  Look for ones that aren't too tightly curled:  they're more tender than older, more mature scapes.  I liked scapes so much that all the garlic bulbs I plant are hardneck garlic so that I can harvest a crop of scapes every year!  

Monday, June 1, 2009

May the Best Pea Win!

It's nearly time for one of my favorite harvests of the year:  sugar snap peas!  They're easy to grow, prolific, and absolutely delicious!  Sweet, crisp, juicy, straight from the vine, it doesn't get much better than that!  And as far as healthy snacks go, sugar snap peas are an excellent choice. This year I'm trying out 3 varieties of sugar snaps to see which one I like the best.  They are: Amish Snap, an heirloom variety grown in the Amish community long before modern snap pea varieties (Seed Savers Exchange), Cascadia, an open-pollenated variety bred in the Pacific Northwest, and Johnny's Selected Seeds basic variety of Sugar Snap Peas.  

So far, the earliest and most vigorous-looking is the Amish snap.  The plants are already covered with pods that should be ready to eat in a few days.  Johnny's snap peas are coming in second, with nice tall vines, but no real pods yet.  Cascadia is in third place, with shorter plants, but lots of blooms.  I'll post updates later on overall yields and flavor.  

   Amish Snap Pea (left) Tall Telephone Shell Pea (right)
   Cascadia Snap Pea (left), Johnny's  Snap Pea (right)

Although it's much too late to plant peas now (they're a cool weather crop and should be planted in early spring) many people have asked me what the secret is to healthy prolific pea plants.  Aside from the usual (nice fertile soil), I like to soak peas overnight prior to planting, and I also use pea inoculant.  Peas are legumes, a family of plants that also includes beans, lentils, alfalfa, and clover, that have the ability to convert nitrogen from its gaseous form from the air to a form that is usable to all plants as food to support plant growth.  This process is known as nitrogen fixation, and legumes do this with the help of a family of soil bacteria known as rhizobacteria that live on their roots.  The rhizobacteria get carbohydrates from the legumes in exchange for converting nitrogen into plant food.  Pea inoculant is a powdered form of these rhizobacteria that work best with peas, and coating the pea seeds with this inoculant ensures that each pea plant will have plenty of these beneficial bacteria to help it grow.  I dig a 1" furrow, put in my soaked peas, then sprinkle on the inoculant before covering the peas with soil.  Water them in well, and by early summer you should have lots of wonderful peas to eat!